Wallabies face tough Tri Nations competition
Exclusively for Green and Gold Rugby
By James Heffield, Betfair sponsored journalist
Wallaby fans may have had one eye on the French last night, but the other must surely have been on the opening Tri-Nations test between New Zealand and South Africa in Wellington.
For Robbie Deans’ men, the message is a simple one; this will be an extremely tough tournament.
While atrocious weather conditions virtually ruined the game as a spectacle, the All Blacks showed ominous signs without inspirational captain Richie McCaw, putting in a dominant second half display to emerge 19-8 victors.
This against a South African side fresh from glory in last year’s World Cup in France and desperate to end a 10 year losing streak in New Zealand.
Simply put, they were out passioned and out thought by the new look All Blacks outfit who, for at least the next week, can rightly claim the title of World No.1.
South Africa only briefly looked a chance in this match, with a superb try by wing Bryan Habana on halftime leaving them only a point adrift after a clinical first half performance by New Zealand, rewarded with three penalties to first five Daniel Carter.
Fast forward a few moments and the game’s turning point shortly after halftime; a turnover in the Springbok 22, the ball spun to the left and No.8 Jerome Kaino crashing over for his first test try.
Carter’s conversion put his side 16-8 ahead and from there South Africa never looked like getting across the line.
It was a far from vintage performance from New Zealand. At times they were pushed off the ball by their heavier opponents, both teams turned over far too much ball and the lineout, seemingly the All Blacks achilles heel, was again patchy.
However, big tests are often won ugly and with Carter having a sublime night both tactically and on offence, and big lock Ali Williams producing a “come follow me” performance in the tight it was the All Blacks who endured.
Fellow lock Brad Thorn will face a date with the judiciary after a dangerous tackle on Springbok captain John Smit, but for once there were no injury worries for coach Graham Henry.
The win extended the All Blacks unbeaten run at home to 30 with the two sides set to square off again at Carisbrook in Dunedin next weekend.
Meanwhile, Australia continued its good start to the season with a 40-10 drubbing of World Cup semi-finalist France, with first five Matt Giteau producing a star performance and league convert Ryan Cross scoring a double.
Exactly how much can be taken from any match against the inconsistent and temperamental French is hard to gauge but Robbie Deans will have taken plenty of heart out of the Wallabies unbeaten start to 2008 ahead of their first Tri-Nations match against the Springboks in Perth on July 19.